When it comes to fashion, bloggers often fill a certain gap left by many advertising and marketing campaigns by offering us more diverse representation. In March 2016, four lingerie bloggers in New York partnered with indie designers to prove that lingerie is for everybody; not just women who look like Adriana Lima or Ashley Graham.
When Sweets, the founder of blog Sweet Nothings, started to see indie designers release their spring/summer 2016 collections, she thought the pieces from the various lines — many of which were black and white — would look amazing if paired together. She tells me via email that that's when she came up with the idea of doing a collaborative shoot. She wanted to provide a more inclusive look at lingerie.
The bloggers involved include Sweets, who identifies as full-figured, Cora Harrington of The Lingerie Addict who is a queer woman of color, Rose Wednesday, a genderqueer, non-binary author who writes for The Lingerie Addict as well, and Elisabeth Dale of The Breast Life, a 59-year-old woman doing her first boudoir shoot.
"I've at times felt like lingerie is inaccessible or intimidating to me because of my body, but even though I'm larger than many brands' target customers, I know I'm not the only person who's felt shut out of this part of the fashion industry," says Sweets. "I specifically reached out to these bloggers and these designers because they're talented, first and foremost, but more importantly they all have vocally supported inclusivity and diversity in their writing, their lookbooks, their social media channels, or their press kits."
Looking at the images, it seems as though every detail — from the baked goods on set to the lingerie pieces picked for each blogger — was considered. As a self-proclaimed baker by night, Sweets made the treats for the tea party-themed backdrop. The images were captured by photographer Kristen Blush, with hair and makeup by Lily Sage.
Harrington tells me via email that the lingerie brands invited to participate — Between The Sheets, Evgenia Lingerie, and Harlow & Fox — were not only indie and ethical, but had also spoken publicly about diversity and were open to having their items featured on non-traditional models.
"The lingerie blogosphere, even more than the fashion blogosphere, skews heavily young, white, thin, and straight, which can lead to people outside of those categories wondering if lingerie is really for them," Harrington adds. "All of the people participating, both the brands and bloggers, are passionate about the idea that lingerie is for anyone who wants to wear it, and that was part of the reason we were invited to participate."
Layla L'obatti is the designer and co-founder of Between The Sheets. She tells me that although she's a designer, she's equally a consumer looking for more diverse imagery in the media. It's something that not only drove her to participate in this shoot, but to start her business back in 2010.
"I personally believe that young people need to see diversity in media in order to appreciate their own beauty and value," L'obatti says. "You can be told you are loved, but when your race or sexual orientation make you the automatic sidekick on a television show, you are being given a very powerful subliminal message about your value. A campaign like this has the power to open up the conversation and show all of these people wearing lingerie as equals. Like they say, an image is more powerful than words, and as a designer this exactly the kind of project I am proud to be a part of."
The vibe of the images is undoubtedly fun, something Harrington says was intentional. While lingerie imagery often airs on the side of sexy, erotic, or seductive, this shoot was designed to take a more friendly and casual approach to things.
"Everyone was positive and supportive and happy to be there," shares Harrington. "The lingerie blogging community is still a very small community. Everyone knows everyone, and we often talk and interact regularly, even outside the context of our blogs. I think that sense of community and camaraderie and friendship is visible in the shoot. We all like each other and what we're doing and we all love lingerie, and you can see that in the photos."
For 59-year-old blogger Elisabeth Dale, this was her first boudoir shoot. Though she adores lingerie, she usually stays behind the computer screen rather than in front of the camera. In a post on her blog titled "You're Never Too Old To Be Photographed In Your Underwear," Dale recalled receiving a text from her youngest son asking why she was in her underwear on Facebook upon seeing the shoot. She tells me via email why she decided to be involved.
"I agreed to participate in the shoot because I feel there is little representation of older women in lingerie advertising," says Dale. "If you do see a woman over 50, she is typically selling an 'age-defying' or 'ageless' product (code word for looking younger than her chronological age). I adore wearing lingerie and finally have the disposable income and resources to buy gorgeous pieces. Why should I be made to feel as if I’ve aged out of my bra?"
Genderqueer model Rose Wednesday also wrote about her experience doing the shoot for Lingerie Addict:
"As the result of not feeling exactly like a girl, I often feel uncertain what my place is in a group of women," she wrote. "But I didn’t feel that way here. The most wonderful part for me about this photo shoot was that everyone there was so supportive of the process. It was clear that I wasn’t the only one who’d had (or still had) insecurities, but the room’s general atmosphere was a happy one."
When I first saw the images on social media, I was struck not only by the group of models, but also by the tangible positive energy. It's not often that you see lingerie in such an inclusive context. Although I wish there was a visibly plus size model featured in the shoot that was closer to my size 22 frame or larger, I can still identify with the models in these pictures as someone who's been marginalized for her body type.
When I asked Harrington about why there wasn't a blogger included on the larger side of plus, she tells me that Sweets was one of the only fuller-figured bloggers attending the tradeshow, CurveNY, where the group for this shoot initially came together. She is, however, aware that more plus size voices are needed in all facets of lingerie writing and modeling.
When it comes to lingerie for those on the larger side of plus, options are definitely improving. But the landscape is far from equal. This seems to be a reflection of an industry that Harrington says is slow to evolve.
"The lingerie industry is very conservative, very slow to change, and very homogeneous," she tells me. "We're talking about an industry that denied, for decades, the fact that darker-skinned women needed nude bras in their own skin tone until the success of Nubian Skin. Anything that departs from the traditional white, blonde, thin archetype is seen as controversial in the lingerie world — fuller-figured models, models of color, older models — it's all seen as suspicious and risky. Speaking as someone who's been writing about lingerie for the better of a decade, I've had brands flat-out say to me that certain people just aren't who they want to buy their products, and that's reflected in the imagery."
This is exactly where bloggers can fill the void and create the kind of inclusive imagery that not only shows consumers that lingerie is for everyone, but that also encourages brands to think outside of narrow norms.
While the lingerie blogging community is still small, as Harrington points out, shoots such as this one and Bluestockings Boutique's latest lookbook, demonstrate that there's a need for this kind of representation in lingerie. This particular group of bloggers is evidence that if the industry won't give something to you, you sometimes have to give it to the industry.
Images: Courtesy Photographer Kristen Blush